What To Do When The Local Brew Tastes Like (c)Ass

Drinking in Korea can be cheap.

It doesn’t qualify as dirt cheap – Southeast Asia takes the prize for that one –  but as long as you’re drinking the local brew, it’s not going to break your bank.

Pitcher of Max in Korea
A pitcher bigger than your head will run you about 12,000 won, or a little over $10USD.

There’s a catch, of course – notice that I said ‘local brew.’

When I first got to Korea, I was blown away by everything, including the beer. During this honeymoon phase, I was warned repeatedly that these feelings would not last for long. Soon, they told me, I would feel the wrath of the Korean beer hangover.

“Don’t be silly,” I said. “It’s not that bad.”

I was wrong. It is that bad.

Sometime towards the end of November of 2010, I had my Worst Hangover Ever. In a burst of sudden clarity, I understood why foreigners have nick-named the two most popular Korean beer brands:

Hite = sHITE

Cass = ASS

I don’t know what they put in that shit, but it’s awful. Don’t even get me started on that time I drank a Cass Lemon, thinking it would be kind of like a Corona. (For the record – It tasted like it was flavored with the citrus air freshener we’ve got in the bathroom.)

7 Brau, Korean beer
Allegedly, this beer exists Korea-wide. I've never seen it in Yeongwol.

There are a few other options if you want to grab a local drink in Korea, but they aren’t great.

First, you have soju, which comes in a green bottle and is sold everywhere for 1,000 – 3,000 won. Bars often serve flavored soju in syrupy varieties like peach, cherry, or kiwi. In a spectacular attempt to dress mutton up as lamb, you can also find soju slushies.

Peach Soju in Yeongwol
The peach soju at our local comes in a little teapot. Too bad the hangover's not that cute.

While these concoctions might sound promising, they are only going to put you on the path to the Worst Hangover Ever.

Second, you have somak, a mixture of beer and soju guaranteed to wake up your gag reflex. It is heinous. I don’t understand why it exists.

Party in Yeongwol with the Korean Army Rugby team
Jared befriended the Korean Army Rugby team. They then introduced us to Somak.


Third, there’s makgeolli, which is like a Korean rice wine. In our town, there are two main kinds of makgeolli – I call them ‘regular’ and ‘corn.’ And no, I can’t tell the difference. You drink it out of bowls, not cups, and it’s usually slightly fizzy. It’s not terrible, but I don’t exactly relish it the way I do a glass of wine with my girlfriends or a frosty beer on a hot summer day. At less than $4 per liter, it’s still a viable option.

Makgeolli at the Danjong Festival, Yeongwol, Korea
Homemade makgeolli, served fresh at a local festival.

There are a smattering of other local options, but the big three are beer, soju, and makgeolli.

And whether you’re a frequent drinker or not, those options get old fast.

So what’s a thirsty expat to do?

When the Spring Beer Fest in Seoul popped onto our radar, Jared and I were keen to go. The prospect of imported tastes at domestic prices was enough to entice us to Seoul on a rainy Saturday in April.

And we weren’t the only ones. Foreigners were crawling out of the woodwork for the opportunity to try some craft beers.

Oh, and there were free samples. That probably helped.

Spring Beer Fest - Seoul 2012
Lining up for 4 oz. of free beer. It almost makes us look desperate, doesn't it?

About ten bars in the Haebongchon/Gyeongridan area of Seoul (near foreigner’s haven Itaewon) played host to the event. A different brewer was set up in each bar, all of which were within walking distance of each other.

Seoul - Spring Beer Fest, 2012
Rain? What rain? Sampling a Belgian-style wheat beer.

Between the tasty free samples and the drink specials, we spent about 20,000 won between us – less than $20.

Until we got to Craftworks, that is. Craftworks is one of those mythical places I’d heard about, but never seen. They make their own beer and serve up a smorgasboard of western-style food to boot. We ran into a friend, Caitlin, from our 2010 EPIK orientation and settled in for the evening.

Don’t get me wrong – I like Korean food, but sometimes you crave a taste of home. So when Caitlin slipped away to the bar and ordered this, that craving was fulfilled:

Craftworks Sampler Platter - Seoul
We also ordered nachos. Because one platter of decadence is never enough.


There were also a few of these consumed. They’re technically ‘take-home’ beers, but we shared them at the table. For about 17,000 won per liter, it’s more expensive than a pitcher of Hite, but not as pricey as imported drinks.

Craftworks, Seoul - Moon Bear IPA
Delicious. And it had a bear on the label, which was the deciding factor.


I assume this sign was a joke, but I’m not sure. People were really serious about their beer.

Beer Fest Brewer - Craftworks, Seoul
Because you never know what these crazy foreigners will do in appreciation.


After Craftworks, it stopped being about beer and we segued straight into Western gluttony. I haven’t seen muenster or pepper jack cheese since I’ve been in Korea, so Jacoby’s burger was pretty much heaven.

Jacoby's Burger, Seoul, Korea
I take a picture of the order form, but not the burger. Fail.

By the time we got home on the late train that evening, we were exhausted. Stuffing yourself with beer, burgers and nachos is hard work, especially when you’re out of practice.

But man, oh man, it was worth it.


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  1. okay, so I need to get to Craftworks and Jacoby’s burger like ASAP. It looks SO delicious. AND pepperjack cheese?!?!? HEAVEN.

    1. I was so conflicted over the cheese. We went with Pepperjack in the end and it was amazing. Craftworks – I’d definitely go back again! Glad I don’t live near Seoul or I’d probably spend too much money on beer, fried food and RED VELVET CAKE, which they were out of when we were there.

  2. We gave up on Korean beer about six months into our contracts. The cheapness novelty only lasts for so long.Soju and I became enemies after one too many school dinners and makgeolli just smells weird. On the odd occasion we opted for a Korean beverage – the cojinganmek (coke, soju and beer bomb) goes down a treat.

    1. I’ve never had cojinganmek! It sounds frightening, but has to be better than regular somak. I’m with you on the school dinner/soju thing. I’m rarely expected to drink at the dinners (they crack down on my fiance instead), but it does not sit well with me when I do.

    1. Now that you mention it, I was in Egypt a few years ago and I don’t think we drank anything but water! Maybe I would reassess my opinion on Korean beer if we had!!

  3. I’d like to see a picture of that Korean Rugby team table about an hour later. That looks like it was going to be a real late night party.

    1. It was total chaos. They had rugby training early the next morning and invited Jared along. They told the coach that they’d met the foreigner at a local convenience store, because it was a secret that they’d actually been out drinking! It was a sweltering hot day, absolutely disgusting. Jared was sick for the next week after the night out & running around on the field!

  4. I’m definitely a huge Craftworks fan! I spend waaay too much money there. And 7 Brau is actually fairly common around Seoul, so it’s too bad you don’t live closer! The IPA isn’t bad and it’s not terribly expensive (usually about 5,000 won).

    I hope they have another beer fest in the fall! The rain really but a damper on my enjoying the day.

    1. I was shocked when I saw the sign for 7 Brau! First new Korean beer in 70 years? Absolutely no sign of it here. Last summer we got OB Golden Lager, so that’s been the go-to beer in Yeongwol. The only problem is that they don’t sell it at any of the hofs.
      I thought I read that there is a fall beer fest in the works! Clear skies would have made a big difference to the day, so hopefully they get better weather next time.

  5. Makju is just the Korean word for beer (맥주)! The mix of soju + beer is somec (소맥).

    Makkeolli is amaaaazing, you need to find a decent place that does flavoured kinds. You’ll be converted, I promise 😉

    I don’t mind Hite and Cass at all – never heard any expat call them by their nicknames haha! Maybe you’re friends with beer connoisseurs though – I’m certainly not haha! Cafri is my favourite Korean beer.

    1. Didn’t even realize I’d written makju! I did mean somek. It was one of the first Korean words I learned so I could steer clear of it in the future! I saw your post about the different flavors of makkeolli and they actually look DELICIOUS, especially the raspberry one. Cafri’s not too bad, to be fair! The main problem I have with Hite and Cass is that they seem to give me horrific hangovers. Though maybe that’s more to do with my age and less to do with the beer…nah.

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